Local apparel firm proves its mettle

 

. . . produces quality uniforms for army, police

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – The successful delivery of thousands of locally manufactured police and military fatigue apparel to the country’s security agencies by the Sam Matekane Foundation (SMF) has put under the spotlight the proficiency of indigenous manufacturing companies.

SMF on Wednesday last week handed over 1 000 police boots and 1 000 full uniform sets worth M8 million to the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) Commissioner at an event held at Police Headquarters in Maseru, and on Tuesday this week 1 000 more pairs of uniform were handed over to the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF)by SMF at Ha Ratjomose Barrack, also in Maseru.

The military uniform consists of boots, trousers, short and long-sleeved shirts, combats and caps. The apparel has been manufactured locally by the Mosotho-owned Afri-Expo Textiles, whose products the Commissioner of Police, Holomo Molibeli, described as “uniform of good quality.” Businessman and SMF founder, Sam Matekane, has also recognised AfriExpo for the quality work done. Afri-Expo Textiles (Pty) Ltd is a privately held, 100 percent Basotho-owned textile manufacturing company.

However, Afri-Expo managing director, Teboho Kobeli, has reservations over political will by the political authority to ensure the growth of the indigenous textile sector. He also pointed at the same authority’s ignorance about the sector and lack of capacity as listed obstacles towards the industry’s prosperity. Speaking in an interview with Public Eye Kobeli noted that government does not support or prioritise Basotho that are in the textile industry but chooses to support foreign investors, specifically Chinese nationals.

He said as much as Chinese owned factories create employment for Basotho, their investments are not sustainable as their main goal is not to grow the country’s economy but to make profit and go back to their countries as soon as business nose-dives. Kobeli said what is even worse is that the Chinese do not transfer skills to the locals who are compelled to work for minimum wages for the rest of their employment period. “Foreign investors come to Lesotho for one thing, to make profits. They send their money back to their countries and never buy or build any permanent investment in the country.

“They even import raw materials from their countries. This obviously shows that their main objective is to make as much money as they can from our country,” he said. He said the country needs to put in place operational policies that will not only ensure capacitation of Basotho in terms of skills transfer but also that will protect both the employer and employees from the unknown.

Kobeli said what is of main concern is that foreign investors have better chances of getting financial support from the government than local companies. He said Chinese are at the top of the government’s priority list while local companies do not even appear on the said list and that the struggle to get access to finances has buried a lot of Basotho businesses with equal if not more capabilities than their Chinese counterparts.

The Afri-Expo managing director said the government, and politicians alike, show no will or interest in the sector which has the possibility to grow the country’s economy in the long run. Kobeli added that there is a huge market for Basotho but there was lack of productive capacity due to lack of resources, noting currently his company has more orders than he can possibly deliver and wishes to open more factories to meet the demand.

He said he has been seeking the government’s support to help him open factories that have been closed due to Covid-19, hire people that lost their jobs due to their closure but his plans have been halted by lack of will by the government and lack of sufficient resources on his part. Kobeli urged the government to support the already stable companies with resources so that these can, in turn, subcontract other Basotho in the textile sector and train those new in the game while according them technical expertise and all that is needed to prepare them to stand on their own in future.

He also said politicians and the government need to be capacitated so that they understand more about the sector to enable them to make informed decisions where investments and markets in the sector are concerned. “Basotho are very capable but work in silos as the government and the private sector are currently not working together to support and grow the country’s manufacturing sector,” he added. Kobeli said his company prides itself in quality and deals with big orders for export, citing that with around 500 employees he produces around 6 000 pieces of jeans a day.

He said the order to manufacture LDF and police uniforms, which he says are of better quality compared to the ones they previously used, was one of the greatest business opportunities his company had received but in terms of magnitude just a drop in the ocean compared to orders his company normally gets. He said Basotho companies in the textile sector have the ability but lack direction and capacity and therefore urged the government to support and monitor the sector for its growth.

“Right now I wish to open the recently closed factories and rehire thousands of people that lost their jobs as a result of their closure. I also want to incubate small manufacturing companies that are new in the industry, capacitate them and afford them technical expertise. “I also want to sub contract Basotho companies so that we can grow together in the industry, but all these I cannot do alone. I need support from the government, support in terms of clear policies and initial capital, to mention a few,” he said. Lesotho exports most of its products to USA and South Africa through African Growth Opportunity Act enacted in 2000 and SACU respectively.

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